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PTSD: Some Thoughts About Emotions

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Please take the opportunity to listen tonight’s podcast where Natalie Harris interviews me on this topic, as there is so much more covered than I could ever put in this single post.

About Thoughts

My true journey towards healing began when I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2014.  It was at that time when I entered counseling for the very first time in my life. There were several issues that were discussed and mainly focused on me looking at my thoughts during each session. We talked about how the trauma of my friend’s suicide was connected to other traumas experienced in this lifetime: bullying, the line of duty death of a friend, and coming face-to-face with bonafide sociopaths during my teenage years.  Now, take all these experiences and entwine them with what I bore witness to as a first responder (22 years at the time, including work with a private ambulance company) and it was no wonder why I had PTSD.  

From an intellectual standpoint, it made sense to me- I carried this significant history with me to the first responder world.  For over 16 years I was ramped up in the fight or flight response- always on the run from both the witnessed suicide (trigger), and childhood traumas.  Once I was able to reconcile this, I felt pretty damn good about myself and the first round of therapy was terminated.  It was from that point forward that I became fully immersed with the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Organization.  I was determined to spread the good word about the benefits of stepping up and telling my story, because the more I shared the easier it became.

About Emotions

Fast forward to March of 2017 when I had just completed my Advanced Reiki Training, and immediately began to experience a whole new world for me.  I started to take note that I was becoming very attuned to the energy of the world around me- both positive and negative.  I could feel when another person was having an anxiety attack, or could sense the heat of another’s anger, even if nary a word was spoken.  Just being present in the same room with this energy was triggering. I started to unwind at the seams and became frightened that I was going down the rabbit hole that I “thought” I had buried only 3 years prior.  I decided it was time to return to therapy once again.

The therapist I worked with this time around tapped into the emotional versus the logical brain. From day one I was asked why I was sad and carried shame around with me (like a badge of honor?).  My therapist always asked me to look at what my feelings were telling me. It was explained that as humans, we are always going to feel our emotions before we will have thoughts about them.  My assignment was to embrace my feelings as an ally versus an enemy. For example, what does anger represent?  Is it fear, frustration, disappointment?  And then the question I dreaded most over the last 9 months: “What do I want to do with it/them?

Let me tell you this was a great struggle for me to comprehend this question.  Every time I went into a session I had my response rehearsed like a fine-tuned piano- and each time I was told “that sounds good, but they are just words”.  Through self-discovery, I learned that I was trying to control the outcome of each session, and by doing so I might finish this round of therapy in a couple of sessions (that was my thoughts, not something spoken by the therapist per se).  Nothing was further from the truth.   In reality –  I was running from my emotions in much the same way I ran from the bullies in my life, or the death of a friend.

At the dawn of this new year, I finally finished my assignment.  A couple of significant situations arose where I pretended to be a fly on the wall, and “listen” to my emotions. This post may seem fragmented, but I promise if you listen to the podcast- all I’s will be crossed, and T’s dotted.

Some Thoughts About Emotions

As I said earlier, as humans we will always feel our emotions before we think about them.  However, for as long as I can remember in my life, I always bypassed the emotional seat and went straight to the head, resulting in me erupting like a volcano.  When that happened there was no reasoning with me.  I would just come at you like a bull in a china shop, leaving an emotionally charged wake in my path.

I now realize that I can take each situation as a stand-alone event, and ask myself the question “How do I feel about this, and what do I want to do with it?”  Sometimes, I won’t have to do anything with it and that will be okay – because I don’t know is an answer.  When we embrace the emotional aspect of ourselves, there doesn’t always have to be a definitive answer in that moment.  My success was grounded in my ability to do a thing.  Not the right thing, but a thing.  Prior to entering the situations that I discuss in the podcast, I went in with no preconceived ideas about the outcomes-  I just lived in the moment.  That, my friends, was the greatest gift I could have received at the start of 2018.  The end of this “assignment” is only the beginning of a lifetime of emotional wellbeing.

In health and wellness,

Tim

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